Guide to IoT Smart Sensors
Smart sensors can bring a whole new level of intelligence to your building. They are able to detect a wide range of events that could occur in any facility and seamlessly integrate with a wider access control and security camera system.
From motion and noise detection to humidity and air quality monitoring, it is now possible to equip your building with sensors that transform facilities in a true smart buildings.
Types of IoT Smart Sensors
Not all sensors are the same. A motion detector from the 1990s that triggers a grocery store door to open, for example, could technically be called a smart sensor by some loose definition. Modern options must go a lot farther to make the cut, and these advances are what have empowered companies to get true benefits from smart buildings and enabled the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution to really take off.
The best-of-class smart sensors for enterprises of today are those that can help capture valuable data and offer real-time visibility into what is actually happening in a building. Different locations may have different needs and require different applications.
But the more that a sensor can do, the more flexibility and versatility you will have when it comes to deployment. The same goes for connectivity in terms of whether you have an IoT sensor operating over WiFi or as a wired device.
The following represent some of the most common smart sensor types that will help you collect insights driven by real-time data.
- Motion Sensors: Though most people understand what motion detection does, the underlying technology remains quite interesting. Motion sensors, by using passive infrared sensors, measure changes in infrared light absorption caused by the motion of warm bodies. This means that modern solutions, which are powered by the same technology as a movement sensor used for intrusion detection, can tell the difference between human or animal motion and a falling ladder, for example.
- Air Quality Monitors: Air quality meters are critical in a number of industries and facilities. It is also often a safety and compliance requirement by OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or other regulatory bodies. By inputting specific Air Quality Index (AQI) benchmarks, you can generate custom, real-time alerts if the level, for example, goes above 100 into the unhealthy zone.
- Vape Detectors: Vape detectors can be deployed in any area where vaping or smoking is prohibited. Just by setting a Vape Index threshold, smart sensors can detect certain substances in the air that are associated with vaping or smoking. This can then trigger an automatic notification or other appropriate action to address the violation.
- Noise Detectors: OSHA regulations state that workplace noise levels cannot exceed certain thresholds across certain time durations. A noise detector makes it easy to not only automatically remain in compliance but also ensure that employees won’t be subject to potentially harmful noise levels.
- Humidity Detector: Certain products and business operations are sensitive to even small changes in air moisture. Any enterprise facing this challenge needs to be able to track these levels with a reliable humidity reader. Among other capabilities, today’s leading IoT smart sensors are able to detect relative humidity, the amount of moisture in the air compared to what the air can hold at that temperature.
- Temperature Sensor: Thermometers are among the most basic and oldest “sensors” that we have used in all walks of life. Modern smart sensors' temperature detection capabilities add modern smart tech to the equation, offering measurements that are highly accurate from -23°F to 122°F. Users can create customized temperature alerts that will trigger an alert or other action if a space reaches a temperature outside of the recommended “green zone” for that location.
- Particulate Matter Sensors: Another component of air safety is represented by measurements of Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5), which refers to tiny inhalable particles or droplets in the air that are less than 2.5 microns wide. Especially in large volumes, these particles can have severe negative health effects for workers who are exposed to common causes, including dust, vehicle exhaust, burning fuels, cooking, smoking, and vaping.
- Chemical Sensors: A chemical sensor is able to measure the air for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are defined as chemicals that evaporate into the air and can pose a danger to human health. Commonly emitted by cleaning products, paints, varnishes, fragrances, and hundreds of other products, some examples of VOCs include benzene, ethylene glycol, and formaldehyde. Because of their cumulative effects, VOCs are typically measured together as a group by the metric Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC).
Industries That Benefit from Smart Sensor Technology
Different industries have entirely different applications for smart sensors. What could save time, cut costs, increase efficiency, ensure product quality, or improve worker safety in one sector might not have any utility in another.
These days, however, most industries can find some way to benefit. And one key for all enterprises, no matter where they operate, is usability. Along with integration flexibility, you want something that offers customizable dashboards and remote access so that all authorized personnel can review events and footage off-site.
Some ways that certain industries can benefit from using a smart IoT sensor system include the following:
- Schools: Schools are large, dynamic, and difficult to monitor. School data closets are ripe for monitoring given the massive cost of replacing hardware that overheats. There is so much happening at any given time, and officials are tasked with keeping all their students safe — all of the time. Smart sensors can help out tremendously in this cause by integrating with cameras to record events that could characterize bullying or fighting. They can also detect unauthorized smoking or vaping by anyone on the grounds so that officials can intervene. And just by students knowing that these types of detectors are installed, you will have a strong deterrent for anyone breaking the rules in the first place.
- Manufacturing Plants: Air quality is a constant concern in the manufacturing world. Plant and factories must remain safe for worker health as well as product control. With a smart indoor air quality monitor, you can set precise thresholds in the system that will trigger an alert — sent to your phone instantly — if a PM2.5 sensor, for example, registers a high reading. Automating this task not only ensures greater safety but adds efficiency to a process that can at times be slow or tedious to monitor.
- Healthcare: Among the many challenges for hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities is maintaining a clean and safe environment for patient care. Smart sensors can help ensure — and streamline — compliance with related regulations. Whether it’s using an air quality sensor or PM2.5 monitor, deploying the right smart sensor technology can make everything much easier when it comes to air quality monitoring.
- Food Production: Food production facilities face daunting requirements for food quality assurance, and they can’t afford to make even a single mistake. Worker safety, particularly in regards to OSHA regulations, is another constant concern. An air quality detector and overall environmental monitoring system will help you meet this challenge even in difficult environments.
- Storage & Warehousing: A storage facility needs to protect the contents it holds. This doesn’t mean just physically housing them, but ensuring they aren’t damaged onsite. In certain warehousing environments, temperature and moisture can pose a major challenge. This is where a smart humidity sensor comes in. With around-the-clock monitoring, personnel can be notified instantly if a location gets too hot or too humid — before products or records are damaged.
- Property Management: Property managers need to understand occupancy and space utilization within their buildings. A smart motion detection movement sensor can automate this process, providing real-time data about who is where. You can also review footage based upon entry or exit events if something needs to be investigated. One other useful application comes from a smart noise sensor. You can be notified immediately if excessive noise is registered and then intervene before it becomes a larger problem or presents a safety risk.
Use Cases for IoT Smart Sensors
While some applications are specific to certain sectors, other use cases are more general. Server Room Monitoring, for example, is a need for a wide range of companies across many industries. So even if you don’t think your enterprise operates in an area with an obvious need, chances are you can still benefit from smart sensors.
At least one of the following use cases may apply to you:
- Server Room Monitoring: Server rooms, IDFs, and Data Closets are sensitive environments to maintain and monitor to prevent overheating. If temperature and humidity levels are off for extended periods of time, devices can be damaged. Here, monitoring environmental changes with smart sensors is not just a luxury that boost efficiency — but a necessity to protect expensive, mission-critical equipment.
- Worker Health & Safety: Employees in many industries can face exposure to dangerous conditions, especially in terms of air quality. While proper safety equipment is must, so is monitoring. With better intelligence and the right technology, it can become much easier to continuously measure whether volatile organic compounds or particulate matter exceed a set threshold. Whether the risk is from paints, varnishes, fragrances, or other products, you can rest assured that your workers are not exposed when you have an air pollution sensor in place.
- Product Control: Many products are quite sensitive to environmental conditions. If it’s too hot or too cold or too humid, they could be damaged — or potentially even ruined to cause a total loss. For this reason, it’s important to closely monitor these factors in real time, as well as air quality and chemical evaporation that could also potentially impact quality.
- Vape Detection: Schools and other areas where smoking are off-limits often have a tough time enforcing the rules. Bathrooms are notoriously hard to monitor and cameras are obviously not an option. That’s where smoke and vape detection can fill in. These sensors can instantly alert you when someone lights up without running afoul of any privacy laws.
- Prevent Bullying and Fighting: For schools, locker rooms present many of the same “blindspot" complications as bathrooms. Beyond smoking and general rule-breaking, they are often the site of fights and bullying. By installing noise detector sensors, you can gain insight into when decibel levels spike — an indication that a disturbance worth checking out is going down.
- Food Quality Assurance: Food quality standards can be rigorous — and for good reason. These goods and products will end up in people’s mouths, so their safety needs to be guaranteed throughout the supply chain. No matter where they are stored and transported, it is key to track the conditions. In the plant, this means monitoring for PM2.5 (with a PM2.5 meter) as well as volatile organic compounds and general air quality.
Features to Look for in an IoT Smart Sensor
To provide value, smart sensors must measure the specific conditions that require detection in your environment. But that baseline capability isn’t enough to really transform your operations and ensure everything starts running more efficiently.
Along with the core functions, you also want to look for IoT smart sensors that offer the following:
Custom Configurations: Different locations, industries, and applications will require different settings. You don’t want to just deploy “one-size-fits-all” sensors and expect to monitor everything. Instead, you need a custom configuration option that will allow you to change thresholds and calibrate very specific values across every single input. Certain products may be so sensitive to humidity that they need a very low limit, for example, while some plants that use a lot of chemicals may need to be much more sensitive in monitoring certain volatile organic compounds.
Real-Time Proactive Alerts: Proactive alerts — transmitted in real time — are vital for monitoring these crucial values in any location. Without the ability to send out these notifications, the utility of any system is severely limited. Sure, it would be nice to have dedicated personnel tracking various levels. But it is much more practical for the system to automatically send out custom alerts to certain key people whenever a user-defined threshold is exceeded. This allows for the fastest proactive response. And we all know that a few minutes, or even seconds, can make all the difference in certain cases.
Integrated Video Security: Smart sensors are powerful all by themselves. Their value only grows, however, when paired with an integrated video security approach. That way, a noise detector or monitor detector trigger can be further investigated immediately — and remotely — to determine whether an incident requires intervention or was just a false alarm. Overall, when used in tandem, video and sensor data just provides greater context into environmental changes and events. Whether it’s an OSHA complaint, security issue, worker injury, or something else, having both the info and visuals of the event will be very helpful in understanding what happened.
Range of Detection: For many applications, there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for what your range of detection must be. In general, though, longer is better, and the best IoT smart sensors offer an industry-leading range with a radius or roughly 7 feet. Not only does this potentially give you more precise readings, but it offers greater flexibility in terms of deployment in areas that might not present many installation options.
Remote Web-based and Mobile Access: Ease of use and real-time monitoring are vital if you want a sensor system that can actually deliver on its promise. After all, what good is continuous visibility if nobody is capable of seeing the whole picture? With a centralized platform, instant notifications alerts, and remote access through mobile devices, your users will actually be able to leverage all the capabilities of the sensors in the real world.
Smart Sensor FAQs
What is the difference between a sensor and Smart Sensor?
For generations, humans have been using sensors of some sort — both crude and higher tech — to detect changes in an environment or recognize when an event occurs. Your car’s gas light turns on when the tank drops below a certain volume. In modern terms, a sensor would have an electronic detection component, but the difference with today’s smart sensors is that they have some ability to interpret and even react to the results they detect. These capabilities allow for higher-level use and integration into an overall smart building environment.
How does a smart sensor work?
A smart sensor is capable of reading and collecting inputs from the real world and then interpreting that data to take a predefined action. In some cases, that merely means transmitting that data across the network. But they can also automatically trigger secondary actions, such as sending out alert notifications or simply turning on a dehumidifier if temperature and humidity sensors measure moisture levels above a set level. This capability is key to the overall growth of the Internet of Things and can allow systems to operate optimally with little human intervention or even oversight.
How does RFID work in IoT sensor technology?
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a common way for Internet of Things (IoT) smart devices to communicate. This enables each individual sensor to report its data to the wider system automatically over a signal, allowing for an overall better assessment of any changes in the environment. This helps the system recognize what (if any) action needs to be taken after a sensor detects, for example, a change in air quality or temperature.
What is considered a good, acceptable, or dangerous air quality reading?
The EPA’s U.S. Air Quality Index (AQI) is broken down into six different color-coded categories that represent different levels of health concern. Ranging from an index value of 0 to 300, it describes air quality as: (1) good, (2) moderate, (3) unhealthy for sensitive groups, (4) unhealthy, (5) very unhealthy, and (6) hazardous. There are five major air pollutants, as regulated by the Clean Air Act, that are specifically targeted within the index, including carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone, particle pollution (namely, PM2.5 and PM10), nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.
What is the PM2.5 standard?
Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) is a specific classification for tiny, inhalable particles or droplets in the air that are less than 2.5 microns in width. These fine particles, which can only be seen through a microscope, are known to be damaging to human health in large accumulations because they are so small they can make their way into the lungs. Even smaller than particles classified within the PM10 standard (particles of 10 micrometers or less), they may be found through air monitoring within commercial operations (such as power plants, motor vehicle engines, and airplane exhaust), from natural causes (forest fires, dust storms, and volcanic activity), or even at home (wood burning).
What is the OSHA regulation for maximum noise levels?
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established specific thresholds for the maximum level of noise that employers can be subjected to in the workplace. The agency measures these limits with a metric called an “8-hour time-weighted average” (TWA) and mandates employers to implement a hearing conservation program if noise exposure TWA reaches 85 decibels or more.
What is a safe TVOC air quality level?
The precise safe threshold for volatile organic compounds (often expressed as TVOC or “total volatile organic compounds”) can depend upon the compounds involved, your location, the governing regulatory body, and other factors. For more detailed numbers and explanations, you should review the guidelines of local authorities and general scientific perspectives from leading institutions like the Berkeley Lab.